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Friday, June 20, 2014

Is Black Diamond -really- helping Gyaru?

This has been on my mind for a few days now. With 小悪魔Ageha currently without a publisher (though it's sister mag 姉Ageha is set to start circulation again in August), and EGG supposedly being "DONE" and officially "retiring"/shutting down (I say this because this is not the first time they've attempted to 'quit' before coming back..), the spotlight on Japanese Gyaru subculture has been dimming. The real gyaru are still around, but admittedly things like gal circle activity are slowly dwindling. The question that's been buzzing around is, "is Gyaru dead???"

Firstly, just because the gyaru magazines are currently not in circulation does not mean the entire thing is done for. People seem to forget the roots of Gyaru as a counter-culture movement. It was not intended to be a popular 'trendy' style, it was created out of rebellion. Just because it's no longer mainstream, does not mean it loses it's identity and it's livelihood completely. Many gyaru brands in 109 and online are still going pretty strong, e.x. D.I.A., Gold's Infinity, et cetera, and while for some it may be difficult to keep track of current gal-cirs and event circles,  (especially if you're not familiar with navigating Japanese SNS sites like crooz or have access to mixi), there are still plenty of dark gals around, and gal circles still do exist and are active. You can still catch recent circle parapara events via Youtube, and I have seen many westerners abroad say that there are actually many gyaru outside of Tokyo in other prefectures.

With all these magazines "dying" all around, I decided to dig up old EGG magazine scans from my harddrive, mainly from 2008-2010. Some might coin those years the "golden years" for Gyaru fashion (pun intended) since it was the period where it's popularity was at it's peak. Besides for nostalgia, I was looking at the trends and the outfits from each spread and street snap; and in doing so, I noticed something. That is, how incredibly simple and convenient gal style was.

"lol girl wut r u talkin about--"

What I'm saying is that the recurring trends and outfits are honestly ridiculously simple, and that the main important part is the girl's ability to be able to make simple things work together. Graphic tees over striped tanks. Fluorescent greens and yellow tops with neon pink skirt, or denim skirt and neon pink or multicolored pumps. Neon fishnets over equally bold knee high socks. Hints of shocking purple in a completely black and white outfit. Even in the most simplistic of outfits, GAL is screaming out through every part of their being. Everything looked DIY, or quick/fast fashion put together in an unconventionally colorful manner.

Seeing all this variety made me wonder to myself, "Why aren't a lot of us in the west getting this down?" Fact of the matter is, no one has creativity (Besides maybe some European gals. It seems they're all flawless...ermgherd). There are really not that many girls who try to even attempt to recognize the basics of the style, whether it's makeup or clothing, and for that reason they can't even step into the area where they can break color boundaries or take things from western fashion and make it work. We are admittedly obsessed with the popular well-known brands-- even those who supposedly 'hate brand' or 'hate brandwhores/people who can personally afford brand for themselves' cannot distance themselves from brand because that is all they know, and most don't know how to recreate the style's aesthetics with non-brand items. We are so stuck onto the brand images and concepts of D.I.A., of M*A*R*S, La Pafait and less often nowadays, COCOLULU.

Besides the effort of the gals in making almost anything work, I also noticed other things-- the way their hair was laid. They were always hairstyles that were easy to do on your own, for the most part; hair down, up-dos, partials-- wavy, curly, SUPERcurly, pin-straight, heavily teased, crimped, etc. A lot of them could be done in maybe about 30 minutes average. Their nails were simple-- and when I mean simple, I mean for the gals who had their nails done, even the crazy 3-D deco'd nails, were either 'normal' tip length, or at least long enough to be practical and functional.

(excuse the poor quality.)

Seeing these things, my mind begin to shift over to Black Diamond. All past drama aside (e.x. with the failed Black Diamond International), I do admire the Black Diamond girls for kind of still being there as a "visible" face of gyaru. Not having expected them to last long, especially under the production of shady Pontsuyo, a part of me is pleased that they're still out and about and active.

However, in a way, their style may be doing more bad than good. I'll break it down into major points:

  Unrealistically High Maintenance


I'm talking about hair and nails. Not every single member does this, but a good amount of the main faces of BDia do.

While big and detailed enough to make anyone go "WOAH!", most of the huge "sujimori" ("筋盛り" suji- literally meaning "stripe/streaks", -mori describing voluminous) hairstyles are salon sets, not done by the girls themselves. The complexity of the hairstyles aren't convenient to the everyday person. From personal experience, attempting sujimori could take about 2 hours or so trying to do it -on your own-, with your own hair, especially depending on how intricate someone is trying to go, and how well your hair can hold up. For a lot of people, that could be a pretty good chunk of your day, or at least a good chunk of your normal 'prep time' when it comes to going out. Even as far as using wigs, synthetic wigs in particular, it can take about 10 hours including washing and prepping to style a wig if you want it to look good and actually realistic.

The many stripes of a sujimori set is visible, even through
blurry screencaps
In comparison, EGG kept their styling reasonably easy with all sorts of styling. Even Ageha, to a point Long hair, short hair, straight hair, curled hair, crimped hair, ponytail, pigtail, on and on and on. You saw enough of each kind of hair length and style that there was not much reason to think "I can't do gal with short hair", or, "I can't leave my hair straight". Heck yes you could! But with all the mori styling in Black Diamond, it kind of tells a different thing, one with less options and lots of maintenance. The only time you saw them without anything special would be during their off-days, definitely not so much with press shoots or events.

Even from the perspective of Japanese hostesses (which I've seen through multiple sources, one of them being the 2009 New York Times article's video feature), those who bother to get things like mori hair sets don't have time to do it step-by-step; they bring all their crap to the hair salon, and have their hair and makeup prepped simultaneously. Not only is sujimori time-consuming no matter how you do it, in terms of being a regular at the hair salon, that's like dough turning to liquid and spilling out of your pocket constantly. For many it's an unnecessary expense and something girls nowadays wouldn't bother trying to do it on a regular basis. And while sujimori was a big thing in Ageha, Ageha was mainly catering to actual hostesses anyways, not regular gyaru; and even then, they had their fair share of do-able mori hair set tutorials if some wanted to go that extra mile.(as well as BETTY magazine)

While there are girls who don't -usually- get too much done, they usually end up in the shadows of Harutamu and co.'s magnificent salon hair. For example Demi, who is effortlessly gyaru without the detailed striped locks (and she seem to have a lot more popularity on her own!), and then at times Mayuchibi would either have simple hair, or a more -doable- mori style. Pomitan tends to have her hair mori'd out, but sometimes she'll rock a more doable style as well. 

Sakurina's nails, from some time ago.
Ridiculous deco, but still about 3-4 in.
Now as far as nails...again, not every BD member get their nails done, but those that do usually go hard... to the point where they can't even properly function without their fingers spread miles apart. The most notorious would be the supercutie Harutamu, who was featured for getting Candy Crush and My Melody figures clustered all along 6-8 inch pointed nails. Of  course that is not her only ridiculous set, it's a regular thing she does. However, when most see that, in regards to convenience and basic movement, it's more or less an instant "nope".

I'd say 4 or 5 inch nails can be seen as really long, but leaving the wearer to be able to do normal activities (with some getting used to). Even Ageha model Sakurina, who was known for ridiculously cluttered nails, usually kept hers at a reasonable length. Long nails are good as long as you can figure out how to wipe your tush, hold utensils, handle money, and not snagging pieces on everything. Even looking through "gyaru nails" or something via. Google or Tumblr, you can see a variety of lengths and designs, most sets are about 4 inches or shorter. (Different photos of different girls' nails, not the same chick because you will obviously keep getting the same lengths.)

Cookie-Cutter Outfits

While D.I.A. is nowhere near losing their overall popularity, a lot of their 2012-2013 lines became extremely played out thanks to Black Diamond. For a good minute there were back-to-back, month-after-month repeats of the same kind of outfits; no mixing and matching different brands to make unique looks, you had maybe 3 girls in the same exact outfit, maybe different colorways; 4 of them wearing the same top, 6 of them the same belt, and then 12 of them the same furry legwarmers in different colors. Twinning/Tripling/Quartupleting outfits could be fun, but only on an occasional basis-- these girls did it constantly and consistently, to the point where their look got really old, REAL fast. Also, crocs (enough said).

While D.I.A. is overall cool, and maintains this brand concept of 'bad ass', when too many people wear the same brand head-to-toe, over and over again, it becomes a bit discouraging and may steer people away from 'looking the same'. Not to mention that D.I.A. is not a 'fast' fashion store-- one would need to throw down some money for it, so when you got high price + someone wearing the living hell out of every piece, it leaves people less enthusiastic about purchasing for themselves. (Plus, at some point in time, a gal wearing nothing but a specific brand of clothing religiously often got looked at for being a poser...)

I WILL say however, that in recent times the Black Diamond members seem to be breaking away from the "Octuplet" twinning thing and are sporting outfits that are actually a bit different from each other, aside from wearing the same D.I.A. belt. Though a majority of it is still pretty much from the same brands, the variety is giving a bit of a fresh breath of air. However, with gal fashion and trends having originated from the streets, they are nowhere nearly as raw as gals of the past or the popular "sa-jin" (a term for Gyaru circle member(s)) who have put multiple things into trend within Shibuya gal style.

Just to give you a comparison on how D.I.A. was usually used by style icons, here are a couple of scans from some old EGG. I apologize for the bad shoop... my computer had to be reset and so I had to get everything done in Paint. (Click images to enlarge)

('one thing as a statement piece***', I don't know where my mind was when I typed that LOL)

Overall, D.I.A. was used sparingly throughout different outfits, not from head to toe. In my opinion, the outfits looked more practical and obtainable to EGG'S audience. The only exception to that would maybe be Yun from time to time. We can also say the same about the COCOLULU craze as well-- the only exception was that a lot of 109 stores and cheaper brands followed COCOLULU a lot, and so there were MANY colorful clothes by different brands to choose from, to make a similar look but still look unique from others. And you may go, "But you're comparing trends from <8 years ago to now?", but my point isn't the trends itself, but the effort put into doing a creative outfit. These girls have 109 stores, Baby Shoop, Galaxxy, etc, they have their Forever 21, H&M, and other stores that are -bound- to have colorful staple clothing and whatnot but they keep to the same outfits. It becomes unclear whether their D.I.A. collection is supposed to be their 'style', or a group uniform...

Lack of Community


At a time where you would assume group/community activity essential in order to preserve the culture, it's a thing that is not happening. At least, not between Black Diamond and real gyaru circles. Why not?

In the beginning when Black Diamond first came onto the scene, with it's "120+ membership", an awful lot of that group eventually dropped out because 1) they were only interested in Black Diamond as a blog ring, which it originally was, 2) they weren't getting paid for the time like they had hoped, but a good chunk was 3) actual gyaru circle members whose time was being taken away from their real ACTIVE circles. Majority of the sa-jin who used to be part of Black Diamond were committed members of their actual circles, so when bit of media hype and 'BD meetings' came up frequently, it was taking an awful lot of time from their responsibilities as circle members.

In case you are mostly unfamiliar with gyaru circles: despite being full of crazy youth, they were actually very organized. Membership was a serious commitment to make, not just jokingly made out in old Bananaman Himura x Charasen features or Gal Circle dorama. Members were often required to put forth monthly fees for the maintenance of the group for future circle events; commitment time-wise was also essential, usually to the point where if something was seriously obstructing your attendance, e.x. a boyfriend, or even school, you were in risk of getting kicked, and in stricter policies almost 'excommunicated'. Despite there having been -different- circles, they are all more or less in connection with each other, having made collaborative events such as DANCE GROOVE, and also casually going out together and having fun at the beach and places during the summer. So if you got kicked out, you weren't allowed to join any circle in the same area or age-bracket(?) because of your wish-washy tendencies.

So when these BD members were missing out on circle stuff, they were actually missing out on a whole lot and they quit because their own circles were more important. Other members, e.x. Kaya (who was the youngest in the group at the time, 14 years old) eventually left, and apparently joined an actual gyaru-sa herself! Meanwhile Black Diamond only really do what you see them do... occasionally be on TV, occasionally coming out with a music track, occasionally at an event, and occasionally on a youtube show. Anything concerning hanging out or having fun is more or less done on a more individual friend-basis, not so much as an overall group activity unless it was necessary for the media.

That being said, if they had members who were members of gal circles, or members who were well acquainted with sa-jin, why weren't there ever any collaborative events between Shibuya circles and BD?

Drama, mainly.

Since it's conception as an actual "group" v.s. a blog ring, sa-jin saw red-flags because BD shared a very similar structure to DJ Fukui's "gal circle unit", which was music based and had a really big 'member base', resulted in getting shut down and Fukui being thrown in jail for soliciting sex from underage members. Pair that with the fact that sa-jin were having their time occupied by BD rather than their respective circles, there was always tension. Black Diamond in the beginning also made it clear that they are a "Gal UNIT", not a gal circle. Some media do regard them as a 'circle', but they aren't; however that is an example of exactly what BD Producer Pontsuyo wanted, which was the 'image' of a gal circle without claiming to be one. Then, there was the whole prostitution thing (where a lot of the BD 'members' were prostitutes, who were openly advertised on websites), which leaned heavily on the guess that Pontsuyo was trying to be the new Fukui... then there was the fallout of Black Diamond International; and not long after that, the number of girls at BD gatherings was cut by at least half (most likely due to the realization that most, if none of these girls would ever see any sort of cut from the BD music/fan club sales, via 109 store or BD shop on facebook).

Later on, (and several back-and-forths later, because Pontsuyo often started drama on sa-jin mobile forums) things calmed down between Pontsuyo and sa-jin; besides random occasional times where he acts like a straight up kid against guys half his age. But overall, fact of the matter is is that the producer is really in it for the money and besides big events like last year's Campus Summit, he wouldn't actually commit to any actual circle events or collaborative circle events such as Dance Groove. Instead he commits to trying to make BD events (often with a lot of normal working men showing up, barely any gals..), or things like GAL CON which another gal networking event (but again, not that big of a gal turnout, besides select featured models and BD members, females that are more on the normal side, and quite a bit of non-galo men).

Overall, with the major gal magazines currently down for the count, and Dance Groove discontinued, and details of Campus Summit 2014 kind of seeming a bit iffy this year, I'm not really optimistic about Black Diamond's current position as far as promotion. While at times they're nice to look at, when looked at in terms of community, the group identity itself is quite disconnected from the actual gal/circle subculture; and then in terms of style, they're not exactly fresh, and they aren't exactly trendsetters in nature. It's less of the "GET WILD, BE SEXY!" mantra promoting fun and living out youth as crazy as possible, and more 'let's all dress up for photos.' Even as far as live musical performances, they are unorganized, often dance out of sync. There's no real effort on maintaining or improving their brand image, nor are they doing much to be style icons. 100+ members, but only about 6-7 of them are really showcased all the time... what about the others?

As a group entity, just photos and minor features are not enough to revitalize the GAL spirit in Shibuya. Even with summer being here, there is nothing to inspire people to get excited and be flashy and fun. MAYBE things will look better with Demi back in the group, but I can only hope that the underground gal culture in Shibuya revives by itself, or that all the gals outside of Tokyo continue to rock the style in pride!



Amani said...

yas bb, well done.

Amani said...

Thank you for this article, REALLY interesting to read!!!
I hope my question is not stupid but what exactly is sa-jin ^^'''
I always thought that BDia had an international community since they have that english Facebook-Page. But it's surprising to see that your post BDI fallout is from 2012. But all that background information was really interesting. Well written!

Amani said...

Damn, you got it clear. Didn't know much about the inner workings of bdia before so this has been a real eye opener!

Amani said...

A "sa-jin" is a term for someone within a gyaru circle! It's not a dumb question at all, I should've clarified it at first c:

BDia is not an international community; they have their international fanpage and whatnot but with the exception of their one background member they are purely Japanese. As far as the one(?) time they went overseas to France, they obviously did so for more press. But I don't know if they'd ever do that again because he made the Japanese members pay for part of their trip to Paris. I don't even know how much of a success that event was... (Pontsuyo is known for swindling money as well, like when he called for donations for their first music video)

Black Diamond International was supposedly a sort of 'sister-unit' or an international sect that Pontsuyo made at the end of Summer 2012 to gain foreign interest. What was claimed was that BD Intl was meant to spread gyaru fashion around in the west; there was a membership signup, and there was a good amount of us who became "members" of BDI.

Long story short, nothing was done with Black Diamond International, many of us came together and tried to improve our style and plan things (con paneling, etc) to spread gyaru around as BDI, however Pontsuyo didn't want us to use the Black Diamond name. Then much later on (through a conversation with my friend Kayo who was acting as a translator), he basically was using the group of western girls to portray us as a 'private fan club' of Black Diamond on Japanese media and TV, not as a western unit like he had led us to believe. It was not a real part of the group.

He had also tried to put people down by saying that gaijin gyaru weren't actually gal, and couldn't be gal because we weren't Japanese. Even the western gals we know whose style was completely on point and VERY comparable to gyaru models and idols, he didn't consider gyaru because of their ethnicity. He said that to us, despite the fact that some of the Japanese BD members weren't gyaru, had clear inexperience with dark makeup and gyaru hairstyling and didn't know how to dress themselves.

So the western girls in called it quits, pretty much diminished Pontsuyo power over the private facebook group where we posted, and disbanded ourselves, and forced him to remove our pictures off the BDia crooz blog. That last process took a good month or so and some public confrontations on their fanpage because he was ignoring our requests and still acting like we were a part of the group so he can use it for more media..Since then, he never had another open invitation for an "international" sect because of the drama that he caused..

Amani said...

There's quite a few things, this is just based on going-ons in 2012-2013ish, I haven't checked the mobile sa-jan sites for any recent gossip. But there's some more questionable stuff about the producer, e.x. the donation money he received for their first music video and where some of it went, and etc. But of course part of that kind of stuff is more hearsay

Amani said...

I never knew about the DJ Fukui issue, wow. I looked it up a bit and it said he had 8,500 girls as members, assuming majority are gyaru that's still a ton of gyaru in Japan even if it was back in '12. I'm also not surprised that some of the BDia girls are prostitutes I mean based on their overall look it seems like it'd be hard to get pratical jobs what with their nails and big hair unless they went into doing nails or hair or working at tanning salons for a living. And then there's still that fetish for tanned gyaru.

I have to say I like the way you went about explaining how certain looks can still be achieved. I find one issue with the intl comm is that some people feel you have to follow the Japanese gyaru to a T. Not everyone has to sujimori, not everyone needs the extreme contouring.

I also appreciate you talking about why BDia isn't meshing well with the Shibuya circles. There really is a feeling of disconnect among the Japanese gyaru community. I wonder if the internet is to blame? Esp with apps like LINE and sites like Twitter where they can connect w/ the snap of some fingers. Though it really feels like that gyaru unit distanced themselves from everyone else. It doesn't sit right w/ me when an older, non-gyaru guy is in charge of gyaru-sa, gyaru units.

Amani said...

Yeah I get what you mean, but at the same time to be fair, the reason why the west is so much stricter is because it's difficult for us to achieve the look without looking normal. But what the saying usually is, is "follow the rules and then break them." A lot of the westerners who are REALLY GOOD now, brought themselves to that point, and then the more creative ones (e.x. Pin) were able to be much more fluid and find things locally that would work out. And made her own kind of manba make that was kind of different than japanese manba make, and it worked with her face but was still definitely gyaru. The issue is both the effort and willingness to actively improve by the new gals, as well as sensitivity issues for some, (vs being only in the comms for internet fame and attention, which many girls unfortunately are), as well as those of us who have been around for a long while to be able to be patient as long as need be to help people along who want to look on top of their game.

Amani said...

Pontsuyo, to be fair, -used- to be a gyaru-o, but that was way in the beginning of time, like he saw literally the first-generation of a lot of OLD gal circles. I see he still keeps in contact with people like Ka~tan for whatever reason, but his agenda as far as Black Diamond seems more or less for profit.

My past criticism of some of the girls for being prostitutes was mainly venting because he'd sit here and talk about the image of the group and integrity, and basically snubbing the western girls. At the end they just show up for attention and face time; he's the one overpricing the product and raking in some kind of profit from it.


As far as the Gyaru circle 'disconnection', I wouldn't say it's because of SNS. Gyaru-cirs were never really actively on the internet, and in the past (2009 and earlier) there were still scarcely proof of activity beyond TV shows and EGG event reports.

Before crooz there was another mobile site, which the name I forget, but that site was always used as galcir homepages. There used to be a western gal myspace where someone collected a good chunk of the active Japanese circles at that time and it was pretty resourceful until the links became defunct. So sometimes you saw recent photos of their activities, and it usually linked to personal pages, etc. Other than that site, there was also Mixi, which if you know it's a very private Japanese SNS, the company who maintains it is/was pretty xenophobic so there was rarely a time any foreigner was able to get an account set up without a proper active Japanese phone e-mail. But gals were all on that site too. I have an account, but with my limited knowledge on Japanese it's still a bit difficult for me to search and navigate, but I've seen a lot of gals on there when I used to log into it a lot.

Youtube and Facebook didn't actually become a real thing in Japan until more recently, like kind of around 2009 I think, so it's not too surprising that internet-wise you can't pick up on gal cir activity on places with international servers, even today. The only Youtube I know where you -can- catch recent gal circle events from is https://www.youtube.com/user/visualmotion21 , they record Gal circle events and Circle Graduation parties all the time. But other than that, gal circles never seemed too bothered to put up albums and videos up of them having fun that much

The dwindling gal circle activity is honestly due to laziness-- you can ask Ashley or Shiena about their experience being in Love Gals, or even maybe Mike Hattori (I don't talk to him like that so I don't know his POV) and his time in VIVID, or the scene change in general, and they'll let you know that a lot of the newer girls didn't want to do much. Dance Groove for example, was a collaborative gyaru event where different circles were in charge for orchestrating the entire thing; from venue, to budgeting, decoration, music, para routines, selling the tickets, all the way to the culmination of the event. That was an on-going yearly event. I don't know what was the -first- year but the earliest I've seen on Youtube was maybe 2007 or 2008, and the last one was last year (which was run by an ex-circle member, rather than the gal circles, because the current generation didn't bother to get themselves together like they were supposed to). This year is the first year where one is not happening..

There is still Campus Summit and also the Love Sunshine 2014 event or whatever, but I don't know how involved it'll be as far as gyaru circles. With Campus Summit, usually the big name circles like VIVID would be actively participating in it-- but I'm not completely sure about this year, I haven't tried to look it up.

Amani said...

yis goobay

Amani said...

I definitely see your point. Especially since everyone is out for internet fame blegh. Idky though, when you're internet famous there's ppl ready to dig up every piece and bit of info on you.

Amani said...

Oh that's interesting indeed and understandable about the venting part. Which is kinda funny because let it be the wrong day and the police decide to do a raid, you'll see their names on the news.

I have a mixi, unfortunately I got into it just as it was getting less popular. So it's not that fun/interesting. But I don't doubt that many gyaru still use it.

The laziness factor is interesting. Like I thought there'd be a lot of events considering edm is popular right now in Japan like trance and eurobeat was back in the 90s/00s. But I guess not. It's really sad actually. But I'll definitely ask Ashley for more info.

Amani said...

This article was absolutely amazing and well written. THank you sweets for this!

Amani said...

Wow thank you, it's been a while since I read such a good post about gyaru, hopefully this makes people think some more, totally awesome!

Amani said...

Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and informative post! Many new gyaru look up to BD, but their style is often the same thing recycled. I think it would be better to find room to be more creative since the point is to have fun and love the style.

Amani said...

This post was so well done and covers the topic very well and thoroughly. I've felt like this was something that needed to be discussed but I wasn't sure how others felt about the situation. I stopped keeping up with their group in 2013 so this is really informative. Great article!

Amani said...

Thanks! It's been a long while since I've really sat down and wrote anything so I'm glad it's getting reception and people are kind of agreeing with it.

I think it's something that's been popping up in people's minds since summer is here and with EGG and stuff gone, it's started becoming more apparent, since there's no other visible group out there to bring the "GAL SUMMER" with a huge bang like it's been traditionally done for years and years

Amani said...

Great post, very informative!
I like the points you made about how gyaru used to be more "simple" and that it just takes a bit of creativity. I completely agree. I remember way back when before I even knew about gyaru, and my Japanese friend told me that my style was gyaru, I dressed more along the "simple" days I guess. ^^

Amani said...

I love your blog post ^^ \(^-^)

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